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U.S.-GERMAN COOPERATION IN THE ELIMINATION OF EXCESS WEAPONS PLUTONIUM
radioactive waste with subsequent vitrification into large, highly radioactive glass logs; the other is fabrication into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel with subsequent irradiation in existing light water reactors.
Several Western programs to assist Russian management and disposition exist or are planned. They are still in their early stages, although most are expected to accelerate. The United States is providing important assistance to Russia for the construction of an intermediate storage facility, but progress has been slow. A new program that enables direct interaction among scientists from U.S. and Russian weapons laboratories has proven an especially promising means to achieve cooperation to improve MPC&A. The creation of a training center in Russia for inspectors and material accountancy experts by the European Union and Russia has also been productive. A joint Russian-German feasibility study on MOX technology for weapons plutonium disposition was completed in late 1994 and will be followed by further collaboration. 2
Russia has limited experience with vitrification and with MOX use in light water reactors. The U.S. and Germany have significant experience with vitrification of high-level waste, but no experience so far with the addition of plutonium to the waste. This is believed to be technically feasible, but further research is necessary. Germany has extensive experience with the use of MOX fuel in light water reactors. A new MOX fabrication facility at Hanau with an annual throughput capacity of 5 tons of plutonium is 95 percent completed and in possession of all licenses for fabricating MOX from commercial plutonium, but not from weapons plutonium. But pending court cases and the policy of the regional Red-Green state government to phase out all nuclear energy create serious doubts about whether the plant can come into operation.
The civilian nuclear policies of the United States, Russia, and Germany differ substantially. Workable options must take these differences into account in order to gain acceptance by all participating actors. The exclusive goal of this report is to enhance international security, which the Steering Committee wants to unlink from addressing other policy goals. For the purposes of this report, the only relevance of the nuclear policies of the three countries is their impact on the acceptability of options.
Russia’s goals for its civilian nuclear industry include the use of plutonium in a closed fuel cycle, particularly in breeders. The Russians reject the vitrification option, arguing that plutonium has a high energy value that should be exploited. Russia has a strong interest in Western assistance for its program of fast reactors and MOX technology. In the United States, no closed fuel cycle to recycle reprocessed plutonium exists, and government policy is not to encourage such technologies abroad. A U.S. collaboration in Russian breeder programs is therefore highly unlikely. U.S. participation in a MOX solution in Russia can only be expected if the contributions to nonproliferation—reduction of the amount of separated plutonium and achievement of the spent fuel standard—are predominant.
In Germany, nuclear policy is in a transition. Interest in plutonium recycling has diminished due to a lack of public acceptance and for economic reasons. So-called consensus talks on the
The report, by the German Association for Reactor Safety (GRS), Siemens, and the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM), will be published under the title Technische Studie über die Produktion von Uran-Plutonium-Brennstoff aus waffengrädigem Plutonium und über die Möglichkeiten seines Einsatzes in der Kernenergiewirtschaft (Technical Study on the Production of Uranium-Plutonium-Fuel from Weapons Grade Plutonium and on the Possibilities of its Use in Civilian Nuclear Energy).